Russian fury at Swedes over occupation series

Russian fury at Swedes over occupation series
A press image of TV series 'Occupied'. Photo: Aksel Jermstad/Yellow Bird
UDATED: Russia has slammed Sweden for broadcasting a television series about Russia's fictional takeover of one of Sweden's Nordic neighbours, saying it has had enough of being portrayed as an aggressor.

The drama 'Ockupationen' ('Occupied', or 'Okkupert' in Norwegian) follows Norway's occupation by the Russian army after a radical environmental party is voted into power and halts all oil and gas production.

Made in collaboration with Yellow Bird, the Swedish production studio behind the Wallander detective series and the Millennium films, it aired for the first time in Sweden this week.

And not everyone is a fan of one of Scandinavia's most recent drama hits.

In a strongly worded statement on its Facebook page, the Russian Embassy in Stockholm writes that “although the author of an artwork enjoy artistic freedom, this must not promote various forms of fear and instilling anti-Russian myths and prejudices”.

It continues that it “hopes that an inquisitive and demanding Swedish viewer who knows their historical realities will give an adequate rating to the attempt to paint Russia as some kind of mean and dangerous neighbour”.

The television series, originally conceived by Nordic Noir writer Jo Nesbø, first sparked a stir last summer, when the trailer was released in Norway. Russia then protested the decision to paint it “as the aggressor” and accused it of intimidating Scandinavian viewers “with a non-existent threat from the East”.

Sweden's state broadcaster SVT said it had expected that launching the series in Sweden would draw criticism, but defended its decision in a comment to the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

“The series consists of infinitely much more. This is a fictional depiction of a possible future scenario, where the EU is experiencing a crisis and how it affects all countries. That type of story of course of course evokes both criticism and emotion and that's how it should be. Commenting on the state of affairs and inspiring debate is part of our mission,” drama head Christian Wikander said.

The series comes amid an uptick in tensions between Sweden and Russia, with Sweden's security services saying last month that it believes around a dozen of Russian diplomats and officials in the country are in fact operating as undercover agents. It concluded by reaffirming its stance that the biggest intelligence threat against Sweden comes from Russia.

However, the first episodes for the 10-part 'Ockupationen' were written by Nesbø back in 2008, long before Russia's annexation of Crimea made the idea of an invasion of the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea, or northern Norway, suddenly feel very real to many Swedes.

While some of the plot ideas come from Nesbø’s original scripts, the final version was written by Kari Anne Lund and Erik Skjoldbjærg, the series’ director, who also shot the Hollywood film Prozac Nation. 

It is Norway’s most expensive TV series to date, costing well over twice the 36 million kroner budget of Mammon, the country’s last internationally exported TV drama, and follows the success of other Scandinavia Nordic Noir series, such as 'The Bridge' and 'The Killing'.

The latest spat between Russia and Sweden isn't the first linked to Swedish television. In 2009 the Russian embassy launched a scathing attack on broadcaster SVT after it featured a parody video of Russia during a Melodifestivalen (Sweden's prequel to Eurovision) show. The segment included gangsters, tanks, stacking dolls and women showing a lot of flesh.